Penan plight shocks Suhakam team

Source: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/57340

Penan plight shocks Suhakam team
Bede Hong Sep 26, 06 6:45pm

The living conditions of the Penan people have not improved over the past
five years, according to preliminary findings of a visit by the Human Rights
Commission (Suhakam) to the interior of Sarawak.

It found that the overwhelming majority of the Penan still do not have
identity cards and have never received assistance under the poverty-relief
programmes.

The delegation, involving four commissioners, visited groups at Sungai Asap
who had been relocated due to the Bakun dam construction, and several Penan
groups in Ulu Belaga.

“Some areas have totally changed. Everything has been wiped clean. If I had
not gone to the site, I would not have experienced the shock of seeing
jungle turned into desert land,” said delegation leader Denison Jayasooria,
at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

Other commissioners in the delegation were Dr Chiam Heng Keng, Dr Mohd Ritom
Abdullah and Tunku Nazihah Tunku Mohamed Rus. Also present today was Suhakam
vice-chairperson Simon Sipuan.

The field trip from Sept 17-19 was organised following a request by Sarawak
human rights watch group, Jawatankuasa Bertindak Rakyat Kawasan Baku. The
delegation covered three areas in Belaga - Sungai Asap, Long Singu and Long
Jaik - visiting eight longhouses in all.

Issues revolved around lack of access to surrounding forests that are said
to be under the control of logging companies. Locals have complained about
lack of compensation for loss of livelihood, after sources of food such as
fruit trees were allegedly destroyed by logging companies.

In Long Singu and Long Jaik, the Penan claimed that their sources of
livelihood have been affected by logging and the emergence of oil palm and
reforestation estates.

Chiam, who was on the Suhakam trip in 2001 to the two areas, said almost
nothing has changed and that many communities still live in deplorable
state.

“The Penan have been deprived of their right to an existence. It’s still at
a point where the river in which they bathe is where they also defecate,”
she said.

In the Sungai Asap area, many people have not received compensation for
land. Others have yet to receive formal letters indicating that the plots of
land belong to them.

Stringent procedures

Commissioners said they received complaints that housing provided by the
government is of sub-standard quality and that schooling facilities are
inadequate.

Other problems include poor roads, shortage of police and fire and rescue
services personnel, as well as insufficient health personnel.

However, Denison said the biggest problem is that the overwhelming majority
of the Penan are not registered.

“In a longhouse of 70 people, for example, only one or two hands were raised
when I asked how many of them have an identity card,” he said.

The procedures for obtaining birth certificates and identity cards were
described as too stringent. For instance, the registration of newborns is
dependent on the schedule of the flying doctors.

“They cannot be registered even if the people want to do so. We heard
complaints that (government officers) asked these people for passport-size
photographs. Where are they going to get photographs?” Chiam asked.

Asked if the commission would take the state government to task, Mohd Hirman
said Suhakam’s goal “is not to take anyone to task…we’re trying to get
people to sit at the same table to discuss what can be done”.

This includes local-level discussions with the state forest department,
education department, Chief Minister’s Department and the federal natural
resources and environment ministry.

“What we want to do is to raise awareness through the media on the plight of
the people, so that the federal government can do more. We have said that,
under the 9th Malaysia Plan, there should be a bigger allocation to help the
rural poor rather than the urban poor,” said Denison.

“When you go to the interior, where the funds are most needed, there’s
nothing.”